Technically, Brad Paisley didn’t come to Nashville to be a country singer. He came to be a college student at Belmont University. But after graduation, he stayed to be a country singer.
So when he was in Chicago a couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to ask him what it was like when he settled in and got to work on that post-Belmont country life.
First Home: I rented a condo right between Brentwood and Nolensville, just south of Nashville.
First Job: I worked at a guitar store called Corner Music. I changed guitar strings and talked a lot of people out of buying expensive guitars. I was terrible. I’d tell a dad not to spend $1,000 on his son’s first guitar. And they eventually fired me because I skipped out on weekends to play gigs around town (Paisley worked at the Corner Music on 12th Avenue South.).
First Song: When I moved to Nashville, I brought the chorus for the song ‘Another You’ with me. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. The girl I was dating left me for my best friend, and I finished that song with her photo on my desk. I’d look at her picture and think, ’What do I say?’ That was my first cut, and David Kersch made it a hit in 1997. So me and her kind of co-wrote it. I owe her money, because what she did, well, that’s the gift of all gifts for a songwriter.
First Gig: My first paying gig — I gigged a lot at Belmont but never got paid — was as a guitar player in a band at Ernie’s Smokehouse down in Leiper’s Fork. I was like, “Finally I’m getting paid to do something here. It’s about time.”
First Run-In with a Hero: I was always thrilled when I met the songwriters. The guys behind the scenes, behind the songs. So one day, when I was supposed to go to Fitzgerald Hartley for lunch or something, and I walked into the wrong office. I was walking through the hallways, and in a back office, there sat the legendary songwriter Harlan Howard. Just at his desk, all by himself.
Now, by that time, I’d had a couple of singles out, there was some buzz, so some people knew who I was. Harlan Howard sees me, and throws his hands up in the air, and says, “Praise Jesus, it’s Brad Paisley. I’ve always wanted to meet you. What are you doing for lunch?”
I said, “Nothing now.” So he said, “Let’s go.” And I drive his old Cadillac with that big wooden steering wheel — he would always have someone drive him to lunch in his car because he wasn’t driving anymore — and we went to the place he’d go for drinks every day with his old songwriting buddies. So we sat around the place (Bound’ry, formerly known as Third Coast) from about 11:00-4:00. I couldn’t believe how my day had turned out.
Then years later, right after Harlan died, Vince Gill and I were playing the Grand Ole Opry one night, and I said we should do Buck Owen’s “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail,” a song that Harlan wrote.
We did it, and when I walked off the stage, Jan Howard, who was a country singer and one of Harlan’s ex-wives, walked up behind me and whispered in my ear, “I’m the tiger.”